Charlie Wright's, London
Friday August 8 2014
We're lounging around at the rather optimistically named Charlie Wright's Music Lounge, and it's one of those nights where it seems as if the bands have been chosen randomly out of a hat.
So far, we've had a female acapella
duo (very boutique-festival-in-a-forest), a bedroom electro duo (who
probably should stay in the bedroom, at least until the vocalist
figures out how to sing in tune) and a poppy, rocky, almost-covers band
whose extended medley of Blondie hits is delivered with great enthusiasm,
but does shine a rather unforgiving light on their own songwriting.
It's all fun stuff in its way, and if this was - well, Swindon, or Leicester, or some other provincal town where nothing quite cool ever happens, all the above might count as an edgy night out. But c'mon, guys. This is Friday night in Shoreditch, heart of London's throbbing underground music scene. Can't we do a bit better than that?
Well, fortunately, yes, we can, and here comes the band that will, with any luck, sharpen things up.
It's been a while since I last saw the 1914s in action. Just as they were poised to make waves, they seemed to duck below the parapet for an extended period (don't you just hate it when bands do that?) and they've only now re-emerged, with a revised line-up that rows back on the electronics and brings on a bass guitar - a Paul McCartney violin bass, no less. Have the 1914s gone all classic rock on us?
In a word, nope. The 1914s are still an enticingly off-kilter pop group, their songs a tug of war between their instinct for a storming chorus and their tendency to veer off the pop highway at a moment's notice - that's if they were ever entirely on it in the first place. The 1914s always have at least two wheels in the ditch, kicking up stones and splashing dirt all over their shiny pop paintwork.
It's this tension that makes the band a fascinating proposition - and, not incidentally, a precision-tooled sonic storm of a live act. The rhythms jitter and churn, beats crack and clatter, the guitar chops and scrabbles, and over all this vocalist Shay sets her voice swooping like a diva on a rollercoaster. It's like watching a glam-punk version of the Aphex Twin, fronted by Kate Bush in one of her out-there moods. A heady experience, all the more so for being in these prosaic surroundings.
As it happens, there's a certain undertow of strop in the performance. I get the impression the band aren't entirely at home in this glorified wine bar, playing to an audience that's largely mates of the other bands, who don't see why they should pay any attention to the weird mob.
The guitarist in particular gives it some attitude, but
attitude is good - particularly when it's harnessed to the 1914s' darting,
soaring, alternative-universe electropop. Here comes the big finish: the
band dive headlong into 'Never Enough'. The song probably counts as a golden
oldie now. It was the 1914s' big tune about three years ago, and its full-on
stomp and holler still does the business. There's an encouraging burst
of applause as the song is deconstructed in a flurry of guitar-noise. That one connected.
Against the odds, the weird mob wins out.
So, the 1914s are back in the fray...although it's a slightly different fray these days.
The twenty-first century post-punk party, to which the
band could've undoubtably wangled
an invite, is winding down now after Savages turned up, swiped all the
drinks and commandeered the stereo.
Shoreditch isn't necessarily the place to catch the interesting new stuff any more - not after the MAMA group took over the Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen, and the wine bars started putting on covers bands.
But then again, I suppose
all that means there's
everything to play for. The future is unwritten. Maybe the
1914s can scribble all over it.